Category Archives: Students

Last Day in Bonaire

by Laurent Yiu

I didn’t know what to expect this morning. We were told that we were going to work with someone to help build a fence. What I was expecting was for us to do it the old-fashioned way, using a lot of wood and a lot of hammering. Instead, we used black, rubber coated chain-link fence that could be rolled out and stretched. As a group, we divided the labor, some of us carrying rolled up fence, some unrolling it, and some of us stretching. It took a few hours to set up the fence in the dirty, hot weather. I was relieved when we were finally done, but it didn’t feel like it was a long time, as a everyone was constantly working. We got treated to sodas and fruit juices and afterwards we went to a food truck named Cactus Blue, which served lionfish burgers and wraps. The afternoon was nice because we went to the Dive Friends dive shop and to Van Den Tweel (coolest supermarket in Bonaire). The best of the entire day was the dive with the ostracods. In order for this dive to be successful, some conditions had to be met: it had to be 3-5 days after a full moon, 30 minutes after sunset, flashlights off, and the area has to have soft coral. The experience was like magic because there were bioluminescent creatures that glowed after being exposed to Chris’ flashlight.  After shining his flashlight around in front of the group, he turned it off for a few moments and then we saw it light up in little blips of dazzling blue light before fading away.  This experience was easily one of the coolest things that I had ever seen, and it really makes me wonder how people discover these things with such specific conditions? Were they looking for something else and stumbled upon this? Why was the timing so perfect and why did they have their flashlights off? Afterwards, we closed off the night by to Gio’s for gelato.

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Homestay Reflection 

Ava Homestay

by Pheobe Day

Most students will say the most notable part of a service trip is the homestay. They will say they were nervous to stay with strangers for a night. If there is a language barrier, they will say they were scared they would not be able to communicate with their family. However, despite these fears and nerves, they will be beyond excited to be explore a day in the life of a civilian.

I can say I experienced all of these emotions while driving to the community where I would be spending the next night. Since I am not the best Spanish student George School has ever seen walk the halls, I was nervous to spend the night with a family who knew little to no English. I didn’t know if I would be able to hold a conversation over dinner, tell them about myself, or even be remotely interesting.

My nerves immediately evaporated once I arrived and was greeted by my host family. They welcomed me into their home and offered me juice and snacks. After a tour of the house we met the other members of the family who lived adjacent to their home. We all decided to go for a walk so they could show us around their community. The six year old, Joesph, wanted to show us the monkeys that were visible from their cousins house up the road. As we walked up the road to visit the monkeys, our host family members waved to those in houses that we passed. It was clear they were friends with everyone who lived in the community.

On our way back, Joesph and I exchanged information about our hometowns. I told him about the cold winters we experience in the north and how, sadly, we cannot find monkeys in our backyards. Joesph shared how even in their winter months, he is still comfortable wearing a T-shirt and that he can always find monkeys in his backyard. It was fun to share with him how life is the United States and watch his face fill with confusion and awe when I told him it can be to below freezing in some places in the States.

During dinner, we went to their aunt’s house and had dinner with the whole family. The house was filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. We told each other about our families and they were shocked when I shared half of my family lived across the country from me. They said they couldn’t imagine not seeing each other everyday and sharing their lives together. As the night went on and I witnessed more how close their family was not only in proximity, but also emotionally, I wished my family was as close as theirs and that I could share my life more with them.

As I have reflected on my homestay experience, I have learned the importance of community and family support. Everyone within the community I visited supports each other whether they are family or not. I hope to carry this kind of support when I return to the George School community in the fall.

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Bonaire,June 19

by Charlotta Moller

I feel kissed by the sun. My love of the sea takes the form of newly formed freckles and a gentle smile.

We picked up trash by the sea and I cried at night for all the damage I, and those I love have done (taking into account our plastic usage and our carnivore existence). I have decided that I will no longer eat meat.

The fish are so beautiful. You would think that you would get tired looking at them, but I could look for the rest of my life and die happy.

Underwater it feels like there is only light. Not in a literal sense, but in our hearts. Our heartbeats are exchanged for air bubbles, and sometimes, while everyone looks at all the creatures of the sea, I watch them breathe. In and out the bubbles surface and I marvel at this technology human beings created to, as Emma would put it, “cheat God.” Francisco and Claire hold hands beneath the crystal blue, and I wish we could all be this happy forever.

We saw a Hawksbill Sea Turtle and I truly believe that (s)he is the one that has it all figured out and not us. The turtle let us watch as s(he) ate, and eventually, while everyone else was distracted looking at something new, Olivia and I watched as it swim away. It was like a magic I have never known before.

About a week ago we listened to a talk by the Sea Turtle Conservancy of Bonaire and I thought about how we only have one life (maybe) and it would be so boring to do only one thing. I’d like to think that someday I could become a sea turtle specialist or a dive instructor or perhaps just heavily involved in the push for environmental preservation alongside other career paths. To me, this would just be allowing myself to experience everything I love.

On this trip I have learned a lot of things that really matter, but perhaps the one that haunts my dreams the most is the inherent selfishness of human beings. However, today at lunch in Lac Bai we asked the waitress not to put straws in our smoothies and I realized that this trip had changed us, even in small ways like that.

I saw someone drink out of a plastic bottle today and thought about the hundreds we picked up over the past two weeks and how it would never be enough until we stop using plastic all together. It hurts my heart that people don’t care but a few years ago I also didn’t care enough, and I wonder if this needs to be changed through education or experience. Perhaps both.

At lunch in Lac Bai, Emma, Francisco, Claire, and I swam out in the clear water and soaked in Mother Nature’s creation. Sometimes, it feels like it’s here for just us – but I also have a burning passion to share it with everyone I can. I wonder if this is how Chris feels about scuba diving. Like it’s everything and without it, we are blind.

Today was the first day we arrived at a beach that wasn’t polluted, and I felt hope in every breath I took.

I hope in ten years beaches will be clear, but I fear that by then everything we have seen here will only deteriorate and that makes me very sad but maybe more afraid than anything else.

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Costa Rica, Last Full Day

Ava Homestay

By Ava Doty ’20

Today I woke up in my homestay family’s house. At first, Phoebe and I woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of roosters crowing. We were able to fall back asleep, but last night Michelle – one of the girls who lives in the house – told us that the roosters wake up the whole family that early every day! Her school is a 20 minute walk from the house and she wakes up at 5 to get ready. We said goodbye to her last night before bed. She wakes up at 5:00 am to get ready for school and doesn’t get back home until 5:00 pm! After we got up for the day our host mom made us a delicious breakfast of plantains, sausage, beans, rice, eggs, and sliced mango. As we ate, the 4-month-old puppy in the house gnawed on our legs and constantly fought with the kitten. Without Michelle (the English speaker in the house) at breakfast this morning it was harder to communicate. I know zero Spanish so I had to rely on Phoebe, and when she wasn’t able to translate for me I found myself mostly saying “perro y gato! (dog and cat)” Thankfully our host mom didn’t seem to think that was too weird. We said our goodbyes around 8:30 and headed over to the school with everyone else.

We got to see the Festival de las Artes at the school where we did our service. The kids were adorable! They showed off dances, songs, and costumes they made! The show was held in the covered outdoor area we had painted just yesterday. It was so nice to see all the kids perform, and to see their families watch them. We couldn’t stay for the whole show, but some of the acts we saw are posted on Instagram!

We took a long, long drive to San Jose – sadly made longer by a traffic jam on the mountain road we were on. We dropped off Cosi at the airport and then drove to the hotel. After dinner we sat and reflected on our favorite parts of the trip. I can’t believe it’s our last full day. Our guide Mario has been so kind and we said our goodbyes to him tonight. I really don’t want to go home, but our current hotel is a Wyndham so it sort of already feels like we’re back in the US. Costa Rica has been so amazing!!

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Costa Rica, June 19

Cosi

by Cosi Janssen ’20

Today was a day full of lots of new experiences and adventures! I am Cosi Janssen and I will be sharing today’s happenings from my perspective.

After a night influenced by heavy chicken, bird, and rain noises, Lizzy and I woke up in our host family to a typical Costa Rican breakfast, including rice and beans, eggs, meat, plantains, papaya, and a fantastic coffee. Reflecting on the time with the host family, it was nice to get to know the rural Costa Rican lifestyle and language. Even though I am a non-Spanish speaker and was really nervous about going, I was, with Lizzy’s awesome help, able to tell them a little bit about myself. We tried to find other ways of communication such as playing games, soccer, and showing pictures of our families. The house was typical for the community and provided a place to sleep for about ten people of all ages. Lizzy and I could see drastic differences to how we live but, surprisingly, all of them, starting when about fifteen years old, owned a smartphone with functionary data. This really got me thinking about where people set their focuses regarding living conditions in the current time – but I also realized that in this day and age, cell phones have become a necessity for living.

After we said goodbye to our host family, we met the group on the bus and drove to the school for our second day of community service. The school is in a conservative area and teaches students from pre-kindergarten until sixth grade. The Costa Rican government provides free education including the building, supplies, uniforms, and food. Students are required to wear uniforms: in the kindergarten the children wear light blue shirts and dark blue shirts, in primary school they wear white blouses and dark blue pants or skirts, and in sixth grade they are allowed to wear an additional blue tie since they are the oldest at the school.

Today’s service projects were painting the ground of the gymnasium in green, and painting the playground, tire obstacles, and hopscotch in different colors. All of these needed several layers which took a good amount of time and was interrupted by a heavy rainfall. After we finished all the planned projects, we had lunch in the schools dining hall which was the typical rice with chicken and a pasta salad with tuna. Sadly, we did not see any students today, because every school can take one day off during the week. Still, all of us were passionate about their work, because we enjoyed so much talking to and singing with them the day before. It felt great to make the school look prettier and renovate things in order to provide these children a good time at school. Reflecting on the service, all of us had a lot of fun, even though we were soaked in sweat, dirt, and paint, and, additionally very exhausted. It was amazing to see how much of a difference we could achieve in these two days. We tried to embrace the ‘Pura Vida’ way of thinking!

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Montreal, Day 10

day 10

by Lorelei and Leila

This morning we were up bright and early. After breakfast we headed over to Louis Joseph Papineau to do some more gardening. We were split into two groups again, one started with shoveling mulch and the other watered flowers and then moved on to painting more of the pergola. One of the girls from Be The Change, named Rosa, was working with us. It was really nice to talk with her in French, and she even helped me with grammar. I had a wonderful time getting to know her and practicing French. By the end of the day, the pile of mulch was significantly smaller and the pergola looked so colorful and lovely! Then we all had a really good lunch under the shade of one of the trees next to the garden before heading home for a break. After the rest at home we set out again at around 5:30. We met up with Kim and Marie-Laure briefly to discuss plans and check-in then went to dinner in a smaller group at the boardwalk. Each of us promptly honed in on the same dish. With our garlic grilled cheese and truffle fries we sat by the water to eat a peaceful but brief dinner. We then walked by the boardwalk again to make the last decision on any final purchases. I bought a small silver ring and a Montreal T-shirt. We met up with the others again and took a stroll down the street filled with strings of rainbow lanterns almost forming a second sky for pride month. We also stopped by a large plaza with salsa music and lots of people dancing. It was really cool seeing everyone out at night having so much fun with their friends. I managed to snag one on the lanterns (unlit) before we left. We headed home by subway and settled in for the night.

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Montreal, Day 9

Garden

by Melissa Ford ’21

Today we started our first day of service at the school Louis Joseph Papineau. We arrived at the Jardin des Patriotes (Patriots Garden) and split into two groups that would alternate tasks every so often. A few of the students from Be the Change came and helped throughout the day as well. One group moved compost into the garden while the other group painted. We worked with Camilla who runs the garden and she was super sweet. If I was having difficulty speaking French, she helped me rephrase and get to what I wanted to say,

We ended twenty minutes earlier than we were supposed to because Camilla said we worked faster than she had expected. Even though it was a hot and sunny day, we were able to do our best. We took breaks often and made sure to stay hydrated.

We went to a circus next and got a tour of the building. We learned the history behind the building called la Tohu which was where we were. There were artists practicing on the stage and we got to watch some acrobats and dancers. By the time we left the main room, we were all in awe of what the artists could do. For each show the artists have to learn a new choreography, they were amazingly talented.

By the end of the tour, we were all tired and needed a rest. We went back to the house had dinner and either took a nap or rested. At 7:30 pm we were out again with Donna, the woman who runs Be the Change at the school. We venture to the sights of the “Oratoire” and the top of the Mont Royal which have the best view of the city. As the sun descended, we were met with a golden view of a gorgeous city. Then as it got dark and lights began to appear we marveled over the twinkling of the plethora of lights in the city. There were many tourists viewing the city lights, but there were even more lights showing us how active and lively the city truly is. From above we could recognize murals that we had seen earlier in this trip and so. we were able to see all the places we had been. It was honestly the most beautiful sight to end our fourth to the last day in Montreal.

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Costa Rica, June 17, 2019

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by Abby Eisold ’20

Today was full of many wonderful excursions. After waking up and eating a lovely breakfast together, we took a boat back up the canal to where our bus, and dear friend Ronald, was waiting for us. About 90 minutes later, we arrived at lunch to eat another balanced meal. On our way to our next lodge, we made three spectacular stops. One was to a banana plantation where we learned how bananas are grown, harvested, and selected. Seeing the system in place and learning of the history of Costa Rica as a “Banana Republic,” we were all able to take away a useful piece of information from this short stop. I was particularly interested in what Mario said as he explained how bananas and pineapples are two of the most important exports for Costa Rica. This stop was very important because it showed us how much Costa Rica relies on these crops.

Our other two trips of the day included destinations for food. The first was a common grocery store. Here we felt more comfortable, as it was something familiar to us, because it resembled the Walmart we stopped at previously and the grocery stores we have at home. Next though, we made a quick stop at a local fruit market, and the experience was very different than the previous grocery store, but in only positive ways. This stop has honestly been my single favorite event thus far, and it was mostly spontaneous. One of us on the trip wanted to get a fresh mango, so our guide, Mario, called ahead to a fruit stand he was familiar with and arranged for a tasting of exotic fruits! At this fruit stand we were immediately welcomed to fresher and cheaper fruits, and it was an overall better experience. Upon arrival there were many fresh fruits and coconut products for us to try. I tried more than ten new foods and was not disappointed with a single one of them. Offering cheaper prices, and better products, we were more than willing to buy the produce we tried and loved. This was one experience that showed me how the ‘Pura Vida’ way of life is found everywhere in Costa Rica. This fruit stand was generous to us in ways I have rarely experienced, and the kindness we were shown was positive for everyone who was there. We all left happy and our stomachs full, as we discussed our favorites of the fruits we tried. This brought me even closer to my friends because we tried this new and exciting experience together.

After returning, having a rest, then getting an orientation to our service projects in the community, we went on an adventurous night walk. Here we saw the Red Eyed Tree Frog and other interesting insects such as a cicada. This night hike was unlike any other we have done because we were not focused on the breathtaking views, but payed close attention to what was right in front of us. Previously our nature adventures involved looking at birds and animals, but tonight we focused mainly on insects, a very important part of the ecosystem. These insects, although sometimes pesky, are extremely beneficial. This time spent was eye-opening and created a greater understanding of these animals that we so often complain about. Today I learned new lessons and was continuously blown away by the beauty and history of Costa Rica. Being immersed in this culture, our group acquired a greater understanding of Costa Rica’s economy and culture.

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Day 8, Montreal

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By Rachel and Johanna 

Today was the first day of service with the students in the “be the change” group here in Montreal. We started the day off by meeting the deputy Frantz Benjamin and the city council member Josue Corvil. They told us what their job entailed, as well as a little description of the current political situation in Montreal and Quebec. It was a very nice conversation that we had, learning a lot about the special situation of Quebec compared to other Canadian cities and their promise to do their best to help when the public need them, about which we had time to ask questions. We ended out conversation with a nice lunch that had been prepared for us, and then received a flag of Quebec before leaving.

After lunch, Melissa, Jada, and I rode in Donna DeLuca’s car, who is a leader of Be the Change, and who is also a teacher at Louis-Joseph Papineau, which is the school where the students we met went to. She gave us a tour of the city as we rode in the car with her, and she explained that the location where the school is, is a very impoverished area of Montreal. Then we arrived at the school where we were greeted by many students such as Grace who is a student there, around our age who spoke very quick French. We talked about our favorite animals, and how many credits she has in high school. (She has 74 credits, while the normal maximum is 72 which was very impressive.) Yasmine and Bayard were our tour guides and showed us around the school which included places such as the library, auditorium, and a classroom. We also learned about 5 values that are important for the organization, Be The Change. These values include “Amour, Famille, Respect, Paix, et Joie” which is “Love, Family, Respect, Peace, and Joy.” They hold these values very close. Afterwards, we got a tour of the garden that we are going to be working tomorrow and Wednesday. Then we went back to our Air BnB, briefly, to go pick up Kim Hebron, who is our co-chaperone/leader for the week. We were all very excited to see her! Soon after we got Kim, we took the subway to Downtown Montreal. We met the students there and we got a tour of the city which included walking through Chinatown and ended up staying at the Vieux-Port which reminded me of a boardwalk with many shops and a light-up Ferris wheel. When the students from Louis-Joseph Papineau left, we went to go get dinner at the food trucks. We all ended up getting Fish and Chips, and I had the best lemonade of my life! The rest of the night consisted of strolling around the Port, shopping, eating ice cream, and watching seagulls as we sat by the water. We then made our way back to the Air Bnb, ready for the service that awaits us for the next 4 days.

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Costa Rica, June 18, 2019

Caitlyn

by Caitlyn Mihalik ’20

The day started off a little rainy and dark, but became very bright and hot as we started working. We went to a local school and started to help landscape the playground and brighten the area. A lot of hard work went into re-painting the playground, but it was worth it once we all finished the first coat and saw the finished product. We also got the chance to talk to and play games with the kids – and some of us tested our Spanish! We also made them laugh when we were unable to use Spanish as well as we would like. By visiting the school everyone’s spirits were lifted, and everyone left happy and eager to come back the next day to continue our work.

Later in the day, some of us set on the road today to get dropped off at our homestay families, and many people were very nervous. I was the first one to get dropped off, and although I was excited, I became a little nervous as I turned around and saw all the other people on the bus watching me leave. The family I stayed with greeted me with hugs and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, and they were patient with me as I tried to my best to use the skills I learned in my Spanish classes over the past three years. Being able to truly communicate with the kids at the house and play with them made all of us very happy. As we shared laughs and facts about us, they quickly began to feel like my family as well.

The whole experience today felt very surreal, we got to live in a whole different life, and we able to witness how people in such a different country went to school and lived day-to-day life. It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences with what we call our own home.

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